By Andrew Murray SM
During the next few decades, we as a Church are going to have to face the issue of where we focus our charitable efforts. We do,
indeed, at a personal level face this question frequently as we come upon people with different needs, but the question that I am raising is about our collective organisational and institutional efforts.
raise this question is not to assume that there is a ready answer or even that, if there were, it would solve our problems or that we could easily change our activities and commitments. It is rather to recognise
that change is in the offing and that by keeping the question in mind we are more likely to be open to charitable impetus as new conditions of life and situations of need arise.
In our present situation,
activities that began in the nineteenth century when small groups of people with minimal resources dedicated their lives to the alleviation of ignorance and sickness have turned into massive institutions, namely,
the Catholic school and hospital systems. It is hard to say any longer that either is in the strictest sense a charitable activity, though the activities of both may well be informed by charity. Both have, in fact,
become important public institutions with massive government funding.
This is not to say, of course, that we should necessarily cease to be involved in these activities, because there are things other than
simple charity that might motivate us. Schools, for instance, are at least partly conducted for religious reasons – to ensure enculturation into the faith and to provide religious education. Our presence in
hospitals may enable us to have some impact on the quality of care that is provided generally, but here we seem to be at increasing risk of entering into compromise with power and money.
Actions of the
present Commonwealth Government have given clear warning of the dangers of entering into major funding relationships with government of activities that we might regard as essential to Christian life. Mr Abbott’s run
in with the St Vincent de Paul Society betrayed a belief that the government could coopt charities to do its work. Mr Ruddock’s criticism of the South Australian charities that assisted refugees released from
Woomera demonstrated profound ignorance of what charity is. Mr Howard’s notion of a social coalition seems destined to draw all communal activities under the government’s own mantle. It is not clear that another
government would be very different.
It may be that we have to think small again. The needs of the twenty-first century are likely to be very different from those of the nineteenth. We may find that those
needs are not best met with money or technology, even if these remain in the background. Whatever they are, it seems to me that compassion, that feeling of one human being for the difficulties of another, will be
Father Murray teaches philosophy at the Catholic Institute of Sydney.